Uttar Pradesh police on Monday arrested a member of a non-violent organisation promoting communal harmony for offering namaz at a temple in Mathura on October 29.
Faisal Khan, arrested from Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, is the national convener of the Khudai Khidmatgar that was founded by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the freedom fighter known as the “Frontier Gandhi”.
The non-violent organisation was known for its activism against the British Raj and its members are said to have helped Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose escape through Afghanistan. Persecuted in Pakistan, the movement had a close association with the Congress.
However, when the organisation was revived a few years ago, it dissociated itself from all political parties and focused on Gandhian principles and communal amity.
The police arrested Faisal Khan on the charge of fomenting communal unrest. But Khudai Khidmatgar said in a statement that the intention of the Gandhian activist was to promote communal harmony, for which he was undertaking a five-day pilgrimage.
“We also want to say that if anybody individual or organisation feels that we have hurt their sentiments, then we are sorry for that but still want to add it was never our intention,” the organisation added.
The police action against Faisal Khan stands in sharp contrast with the authorities’ response to the Hindu Jagaran Manch’s act of conducting Shiva puja on the Taj Mahal’s premises on October 25.
Manch leader Gaurav Thakur had echoed many BJP leaders and claimed without any historical evidence that the Mughal monument was Tejo Mahalaya — a Shiva temple. Uttar Pradesh police are still waiting for the CISF, which oversees security at the Taj, to file a complaint.
Faisal Khan had made no such preposterous claim about the Nandbaba (Krishna) temple at Nandgaon, Mathura. The temple is different from the more famous Krishna Janmasthan temple complex in Mathura.
Faisal Khan and three colleagues had assembled at the Nandbaba temple last week.
The other three have been identified by the police as Mohammad Chand, Nilesh Gupta and Alok Ratna.
The police registered a case against them in Mathura on October 30 after someone posted a video on social media. Faisal and Chand are seen in the video offering namaz at a secluded place.
Local media quoted Faisal as saying: “Our intention was good. We have been taking out sadbhavana yatras (communal harmony marches) for the past 20 years and we offer namaz wherever we go. We also sing bhajans (devotional Hindu songs) at many places. I apologise to those who felt hurt because of our action.”
Kanha Goswami, a priest at the temple, said: “After offering namaz, Faisal met me. When I reacted against his action, he also offered prayers before the Hindu gods and recited aloud many couplets from the Ramayan and other Hindu scriptures. I didn’t like them making viral videos of the namaz. Had they also posted the videos of their prayers before the Hindu gods, I wouldn’t have registered a complaint.”
He added: “We don’t ask people their religion before they enter the temple. It is open to whoever wants to come.”
The priest said the group had told him they were on a “parikarma (circumambulation)” of the “Brij Chaurasi Kos” (a particular distance to be covered) on bicycles.
Goswami has registered a written complaint with Nandgaon police station. A case has been filed on the charges of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, injuring or defiling a place of worship with the intent to insult a religion, and an intent to incite a community.
Anand Giri, a sadhu from the Niranjani Akhara in Mathura, and a few other monks had threatened a protest if the group members were not arrested. “Whatever they did was to provoke us and politicise the religion,” Giri said.
Gaurav Grover, senior superintendent of police, Mathura, said the case had been handed over to the state’s intelligence department. “A search is on to arrest the other three,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh minister Shrikant Sharma has termed the incident an attempt to create differences between communities and said the accused won’t be spared.
“For blocking the road to progress, they are attempting to create differences between Hindus and Muslims,” he claimed.
On Monday, Pawan Yadav, the spokesperson for Khudai Khidmatgar, issued the following statement:
“Gandhian social activist Faisal Khan was on a five-day pilgrimage (Yatra), dated 24-29 October, to the holy land of Krishna, Braja. He was participating in ancient Chaurasi Kos Yatra of Govardhan. In his Yatra, he met with several people as well as the priest of various temples.
“One can see the videos, pictures of his Yatra which are available on his Facebook profile. There were great discussions about the philosophy of Hinduism, verses of Tulsidasji… and Rahimdas.
“On the last day of his pilgrimage, Faisal Khan visited the holy temple of Nand Baba. He paid his obeisance there. That was the time of his afternoon prayers, so he asked for suitable place. The people who were there in the temple were allowed him to offer prayers in the temple compound itself by saying that ‘you are already in the home of God so why you need to go anywhere else’. Hearing it, Faisal Khan completed his prayers. After it, he and other members stayed in the Temple for some more time and they had their lunch in the same temple.
“Everything was fine. On October 29, the Yatra was completed and he returned to Delhi with all. After three days, he got the information from some local media people that there are some people who are not happy with the incidents… and they are going to complain to the police….
“In a few TV media, false stories are being shown. We strongly oppose all the allegations….
“Khudai Khidmatgar believe in Peace, Love and Communal Harmony. Faisal Khan, as an individual, is working for the last three decades on these issues, and the objective of Khudai Khidmatgar is also the same. We focus to counter any forms of religious extremism in this society. Many Hindu religious institutions have appreciated and acknowledged the work of Faisal Khan for his uncompromising work for peace and brotherhood.
“Faisal Khan and we all, as members of Khudai Khidamatgar, have full faith in humanity as well as the Rule of Law. Our efforts were, are and always will be for the betterment of the society.
“We are continuously trying to put our views from different platforms through disciplined and inclusive approach.
“We also want to say that if anybody individual or organisation feels that we have hurt their sentiments, then we are sorry for that but still want to add it was never our intention.”